Once again, ideology over women’s reproductive rights has cropped up where it has no place: in the voting record of the N.H. Executive Council. And once again, Chris Sununu is caught in the middle.
The council, tasked with ensuring fiscal oversight through approving all large state contracts, ought to be doing so based on whether those contracts offer fair value for the taxpayers’ money, whether the services are needed and whether the correct process was followed in selecting the firms or agencies involved.
But since the five council seats are partisan — that is, chosen from among candidates of opposing parties, politics sometimes crops up where it shouldn’t.
In the case of women’s health services, that’s too often been the case.
This time, three women’s health-care providers — Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center of Concord and Lovering Health Center on the Seacoast — that provide 80 percent of services for the low-income, uninsured and underinsured Granite Staters who rely on the state’s Family Planning Program, were denied contracts in a partisan 4-1 vote. Their services include birth control, prenatal care, cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment. They serve 12,000 of the 15,000 state residents who rely on such services.
The hit comes after state GOP lawmakers refused to replace federal funding those agencies lost under the Trump administration, which the Legislature had made up for when it was controlled by the Democrats. President Biden and others are working to reverse the Trump decision, but funding isn’t expected to return until at least March.
As has been proven time and again, denying access to health care only costs taxpayers more, as problems that could be dealt with proactively instead linger and worsen, costing more to treat than to prevent.
That’s the situation these four GOP councilors have put Granite State taxpayers in. Rather than paying for cancer screenings, much more costly cancer treatments may be in store. Instead of STD testing, treatment after the fact — and possibly dealing with resulting birth defects — could be necessary.
In short, Councilors David Wheeler, Joe Kenney, Janet Stevens and Ted Gatsas are guilty of mismanagement of the state’s resources — the very thing Executive Councilors are elected to prevent.
The underlying issue is abortion. All four made clear before the vote they would deny funding to agencies that offer abortion services or had voted against them in the past.
However, a ray of hope emerged Tuesday, when Kenney and Stevens equivocated, saying their votes were made without all the pertinent information. Sununu quickly announced he’d welcome a revote.
Prior to the contracts coming before the council, the state Department of Health and Human Services had been tasked with auditing the services to prove they don’t use public money for abortion services — this despite years of their having proved that point. Before the vote last Wednesday, DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibonette and Attorney General John Formella assured the councilors that is the case, although the results of the audit were not formally due until Friday. Shibonette and department spokesman Jake Leon insist the councilors had every bit of information needed from them.
Now, with Democrats and women’s health advocates railing against the vote, and targeting Sununu in particular, it seems very possible the governor — who is reportedly eyeing a run against Maggie Hassan next year for her U.S. Senate seat — turned up the heat on the councilors.
He would know about such heat because he faced it himself in 2015, when as an executive councilor he cast the deciding vote to deny funding to Planned Parenthood. He later reversed himself, saying he’d received more information. That vote, though, left Sununu politically vulnerable on women’s health issues, even though he’s since had a strong record of support.
Until this year, that is. He signed a state budget in June that includes language that prohibits abortions at or after 24 weeks, with no exception for rape or incest, or for fetal viability, and that requires a woman seeking any abortion to first have an ultrasound. Sununu said he couldn’t veto the budget over the abortion language, a stance critics derided given his record 79 vetoes in the past two years of bills put forth by the Democratic-led Legislature, including a state budget.
Whatever the reason, we hope the council does revisit the vote, and that a majority realizes the hot-button issue of abortion isn’t reason to deny much-needed health care to vulnerable Granite Staters — especially with the state’s assurance that no public money is being used for that purpose.
This ought to be a routine vote annually, not a political sideshow. And if Sununu can twist arms hard enough to get the funding restored, then, even if belatedly, he’s doing right by the state’s women, regardless of motive.